Using Weight Loss to Give the Gift of Hearing

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This past week I had the opportunity to meet with an inspiring pair of people. If you didn’t have time to catch the show, I was visited by Chef Kelle Elliott and her boss, Al Gabianelli. Kelle has been deaf since age 6 when a meningitis infection damaged her hearing and led to almost complete deafness. In spite of that, Kelle has learned to thrive. Her exceptional ability to read lips allows her to communicate with the rest of the world where she might otherwise be isolated. She works at a busy restaurant and has two wonderful sons.

But for all of these achievements, Kelle has missed many things. Aside from the sounds of the world you and I often take for granted, Kelle has never heard the voices of her two sons. Incredibly, medical technology can change that. Cochlear implants, which were first invented in the 1970s, have been continually improving in their ability to provide hearing to those who have none.

They work by directly stimulating the nerve that carries sound information from the ear to the brain. In many types of deafness, the neural apparatus for hearing isn’t damaged. Sound is converted to electrical signals for the brain in an organ called the cochlea. If this tiny organ is damaged, sound isn’t converted and the brain doesn’t know sound is hitting the ear.

A cochlear implant picks up sound outside the ear with a microphone and processes it to make speech easier to hear. That processed signal is sent to a tiny set of electrodes that are installed in the cochlea on top of the nerves for hearing. Those electrodes attempt to copy what naturally happens in the cochlea by stimulating the nerve at different places based on whether the sound is high or low. While the signal to the brain isn’t quite the same as the one generated by a normal ear, it gives back some hearing to those who had none.

Kelle’s insurance covers the $100,000 procedure, but not the $10,000 deductible. When her boss and coworkers heard that was the case, they decided to take action. They’ve coordinated a fund-raising effort to pay for Kelle’s operation. Her boss Al saw this as a great opportunity to help someone else while simultaneously doing something good for his own health. He pledged to raise money for every pound of weight he lost toward Kelle’s $10,000 to give her the gift of hearing.

Some of you, like Nina and Chase, have already shared the sounds they’d most miss if they lost their hearing, as well as some of the sounds they’d like to share with Kelle when she gets her hearing back with #OzSound.

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I want to keep spreading the word about this incredible and inspirational cause. If we all give toward this effort, we can help Kelle hear her sons’ voices for the first time and change her life forever. Take a leaf out of Al’s book and set up your own weight-loss fund-raiser toward Kelle’s $10,000. To learn more about Kelle and to follow Al’s progress, visit their Facebook page. During this season of giving, please make a donation on their fundraising page and spread the word through Facebook and Twitter using the #OzSound.